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Hannah Carter is dean of University of Maine Cooperative Extension.
April in Maine is a welcome visitor. It’s the time of year when the sun gets warmer, the days get longer and the earth starts to wake from winter hibernation. As the last snowbanks finally melt, here at University of Maine Cooperative Extension we are looking ahead to another growing and gardening season, and a summer filled with exploration and discovery at our four 4-H camps and learning centers.
April is also National Volunteer Month, a time for us to celebrate the thousands of people across the state who give selflessly of their time and talent. Volunteers are the heart of our organization. Without them, UMaine Extension could not fulfill its mission to bring practical, research-based information from the state’s research university to the people of Maine — work that enriches lives and strengthens communities.
Each year, thousands of people volunteer, on average, more than 100,000 hours of their time, energy and experience to a wide array of Extension programs — from 4-H youth programs to Master Gardener Volunteer community projects; from Harvest for Hunger gleaning efforts to Master Food Preserver training. Through these volunteer programs, we are able to extend our reach, provide more education and inspire positive interactions, all thanks to dedicated people statewide who believe in the value of service and in extension’s mission.
The national organization Independent Sector estimates the national value of a volunteer hour at $28.54, translating to a $2.6 million impact to our organization and local communities. Simply put, our volunteers make all the difference when it comes to our ability to improve the lives of Maine people.
In addition to being the dean of UMaine Extension, I am the product of volunteers. Growing up in Aroostook County, I was supported, mentored and encouraged by dedicated 4-H volunteers. I have often said that any success I have in life is due to the 4-H volunteers who nurtured my interests, provided a safe space to learn and fail, and committed countless hours of time and energy to help me pursue my passions.
Today, I have the privilege of watching hundreds of Maine youth benefit from some of those very same 4-H programs every year. I also have the equally important opportunity to meet many of our volunteers and hear firsthand how their own lives are impacted through these meaningful experiences.
According to the recently released “World Happiness Report,” the global rates of volunteering, helping strangers and donating to charity have increased nearly 25 percent above pre-pandemic levels. As evidenced with the recent events in Ukraine and throughout the pandemic, the worst of times can bring out the best in us.
Whether you have an hour each week or an hour every couple of months, contributing your time can have a positive impact on your community and on you as an individual. The act of volunteering provides many benefits to the individual, such as offering a sense of purpose, teaching valuable skills, creating new relationships and networks, and improving both physical and mental health.
Mahatma Gandhi wrote: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” During National Volunteer Month, I encourage you to find ways to get involved in your community. There are countless organizations that would love to put your time and talents to good use. You may never know the impact your act of service will make, but know it will make a difference. For more information about how you can help with UMaine Extension programs, visit extension.umaine.edu/about/volunteer4.